Home Articles Blue Ocean strategy myths: ‘Its just strategic marketing repackaged’

Blue Ocean strategy myths: ‘Its just strategic marketing repackaged’


As the term ‘Blue Ocean’ gains currency, there’s an increased opportunity for the underlying methodology to be misused, mangled and misunderstood.

And, trust me, it often is. Even by some who have read the book, but more often by know-it-alls who haven’t.

In fact, a series of sometimes well-intentioned but occasionally risky reinterpretations means there are plenty of Blue Ocean myths about. I say risky because, as with any strategic endeavour, failure due to half-baked attempts or plain ignorance can end up doing more harm than if nothing had been attempted at all.


Allow me to address one of the more popular myths or accusations: that Blue Ocean Strategy is just niche, strategic or customer-oriented strategy; as though that was a bad thing anyway!

Like all myths, the idea that Blue Ocean Strategy is all about the customer contains a grain of truth. But just as one swallow does not a summer make, one customer does not a strategy make.

While it does focus on customers in the outset, it’s more accurate to say that Blue Ocean Strategy focuses on ‘noncustomers’. It also takes into account other important strategic business factors such as competitors, substitutes and alternatives, the operating environment, business model reinvention, change management, stakeholder engagement, supply chain, market penetration and so on – all in a very thorough and systematic way.

Human flight was always possible. But it required the Wright Brothers to crack and share the tools and methods that made human flight systematic and replicable. Then aviation was born. Blue Ocean Strategy is a set of tools and methods that make the creation of uncontested markets systematic and replicable. It gives ideas flight, but also landing gear.

Identify your commercial innovation system

Blue Ocean Strategy is a systematic approach that helps you open your eyes to where valuable, commercial innovation typically comes from and guides you through the process of designing your own way of commercialising it. That’s not just strategic or niche marketing, although it is encompassed.

It’s easy to see how some people can look at the classic Blue Ocean Strategy case studies and see a purely customer-oriented/strategic marketing strategy. There are many examples of Blue Ocean Strategies with a strong customer focus, such as the Nintendo Wii – a product that was developed using Blue Ocean Strategy (not the strategy being retrofitted to the product launch – just to clarify another myth).

Many Blue Ocean examples which might appear customer-centric actually contain other important value innovation elements on closer inspection. For Cirque de Soleil, success was as much about what they eliminated from the traditional circus as what they added to it. For example, the decision to cut out the mainstay of the circus – animal acts, the three-ring setting and the big circus stars – meant huge cost savings.

Other factors in implementation, such as establishing a fair process of engagement to manage change, and utilising tipping point leadership to effect change using the least amount of resources, are often also critical and not necessarily just customer led. Blue Ocean Strategy helps align all these strategic imperatives, decisions and actions.

Without a holistic view and proper implementation even the most brilliant customer focused value proposition based idea will become derailed, especially if there is a lack of strategy behind the people and profit propositions – but there’s so much of that to Blue Ocean Strategy and I cant even cover it all here.

Andrew Nelson is the Managing Director of UCSI Blue Ocean Strategy Australia, part of the group, present in Australia, Malaysia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand, with the exclusive business rights to Blue Ocean Strategy®. www.blueoceanstrategyaustralia.com.au